A Hellish Year, Part 2: On Reflections and Not Existing

The most castrating thing  J said to me this last year was, “Lina, you’re a wonderful woman.”

Oh, there were things, small cruelties that might on the surface seem worse, especially as most of them were untrue. But the, “Lina , you’re a wonderful woman” comment stung the most. Why, you may ask? That seems like a nice compliment, right?

Yeah, no. The hardest part of this year has been confronting my reflection in J’s eyes, facing the person he thinks I am.

He has poured a mould over me, a mould made out of all his hurt and shame and frustration with the unavoidable domesticity that comes from having children, a mould of his own feelings of fear and inadequacy (at least that is my story, but more on stories in another post) and shaped me into this one thing, this 2-dimensional character that is hardened into certain characteristics that, when not viewed with the lens of love and compassion, are completely unlovable.

What I see reflected in his eyes is a person that makes lists and plans and needs to know everything in advance. A person that has to go to bed early because of her routine, who has to make sure everything runs by clockwork. The mother of his children , the executive assistant, the person who gets things done.

The trouble is, all that has a modicum of truth to it. I am that person. Partly I am that person in reaction to him. Someone needed to get stuff done in our marriage and I happen to be highly organized and efficient (I am starting to come to terms with this, on a personal and professional level. I am a competent person. There. I said it. So sue me.) The organization, the running of the household, the making sure everyone is taken care of, that fell to me (still does, actually). In order to do that and still pay at least a little bit of attention to my own needs meant that I had to set up a pretty strict regime for myself which I have catalogued in numerous posts on this blog.

In short, a “wonderful woman.” Not a woman you want to hang out with. Not a woman you want to undress and have in your bed. Not a woman you want to wake up next to, make coffee and share the newspaper with. No. A wonderful woman is someone you don’t see, someone in the background who makes your life run efficiently but is carefully blank, in business suit grey. A wonderful woman is neutered of all complexity, creativity and desirability.

But that is not all I am.  Like most people I am a flurry of contrasting characteristics, of a tension between wanting safety and wanting to blow it all up, between wanting to feel solid and not solid at the same time. I am a woman who wants to feel desired and feel desirable and at the same time afraid of that part of me. I am a writer who just wants to have the time to write better. I am an introvert who is coming to terms with some extremely extroverted tendencies. A social person with an old habit of shyness.

I want to be free of anything that makes me just one thing – I want to have a routine and explode it all at the same time (because really, that is what routines are for, don’t you think? sort of like a base station that we can come back to when we wander off, something to ground us when we need grounding, but that we can easily break free from). But mostly, I want to be enough, to be loved for, and not in spite of, my flaws. I want to be seen for all of these contradictions  and above all accepted for who I am and not taken for granted.

The wonderful woman comment concretized me into this hardened, warped version  of myself and all my personhood. All those things that make me a complex human being became like the lost wax in the casting: destroyed in the process. Now, when I look into J’s eyes, it is like being confronted with the medusa head: staring back at me is a distorted, stone likeness of myself.

I understand why he needs to do this, why he needs to cast me into this one thing who is not worthy of love anymore, but simply an automaton, an administrative assistant, a closed, boring individual.

It is easier to rationalize hurting a statue of a person than an actual one.

I get that.

But it is the single most hurtful thing in a whole litany of very hurtful things. Love dies when you stop seeing people for the blurry messes they are, when you start building bricks around them and seeing them only as one thing.

I found out after J’s announcement that he had so distanced me and the girls from his life that a lot of the people he worked with didn’t even know he was married and had children. He had relegated me so fully, so completely to the domestic, that despite our life built around his art, around talking about and thinking about art, I was no longer worthy of being a part of it.

I am still reeling from this. Because despite being the one always keeping the home fires burning, despite the struggle I’ve had to keep my own creative juices alive in the face of the everyday drudgery of work and home, I thought I was still apart of that creative life I so valued. I thought it was something that we shared together.

This has been the catalyst for a true existential crisis. It has made me feel like I literally might not exist. And I mean this on a molecular level, like I am simply a collection of a molecules with delusions of grandeur at being a human being.

Which is kind of funny actually. I realize that I have spent a lot of my life with the dualistic quest of trying to be invisible yet still longing for someone to see me. This last year has brought both of these desires in sharp light. I am afraid of being seen yet now that I am confronting true invisibility, it is way worse.

A lot of who we are is created by how the people around us see us. I know this is not a popular thing to say, that I should espouse a sense of self that is completely inner-made, but I don’t think that’s true and it is harmful to try to convince ourselves that it is.

If our loved ones stop seeing us, or if they see us as only one thing, it is hard to maintain a sense of self that is something different from the one reflected back at us. We then take on this mono-identity and are in danger of thinking of ourselves as only this one rigid thing.

The result: a soundproof box that we walk into willingly but which is then locked from the outside. No matter how much we bang on the door, how much we scream and cry to be let out, the person on the other side won’t hear because from their point of view we are just a box with nothing in it, just empty space.

I have still not found a way out of this situation except for staying as far away from J as possible. Every time I see him I am transported to this box he has put me in and I can’t get out. The urge to bang on the door, to try and get him to see me is so strong that I end up screaming and crying and banging on the confines of my box, shouting at him to see me! see me! Remember the person that you loved! I am here! Just turn around and see me!

It doesn’t work. He has made up his mind. I am an empty box. All I get for my trouble is bruised knuckles and a hoarse voice and an all-consuming feeling that I in fact do not exist.

But I do exist, at least I think I do. [insert the requisite I think therefore I am joke. Or  Pun? Cliché? Philosophical statement? Oh, whatever] And the only thing I can do is leave. Stop banging on the window with the view of his back to me and make myself another exit (I imagine a Shawshank-like escape from my box: a small knife, a poster of Rita Hayworth and plaster dust in the cuffs of my pants).

I am walking away armed with a broom and a dustpan to sweep all of my molecules back into a pile and try to fashion them back into something resembling a human being. Hopefully this new version will come with a concretization-resistant formula that will let me move through the world as the fluid catastrophe I aspire to be.







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